Commuters head for Dakota County from just about everywhere

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 4:09 PM

County-to-county travel patterns show how popular Dakota County is with commuters.

People stream into Dakota County each weekday morning from practically every single county all across Minnesota, not to mention western Wisconsin.

But those who live in the county also head in surprising directions in surprising numbers — including straight south, away from the metro area’s major job concentrations.

When they do go north, they head into the west metro in far heavier numbers than the east, as anyone who has ever sat still on I-35W or Cedar Avenue will have observed.

These are among the findings of a new analysis of county-to-county commuting patterns by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The numbers depict a Dakota County that is the envy of its neighbor, Scott, in at least two ways:

• The employment numbers Dakota has managed to pile up over the years, owing to freeway and airport access, among other factors.

• The number of people who both live and work there and don’t need to cross the river, a movement that funnels traffic into a limited set of corridors and creates rush-hour gridlock.

“Dakota County is a substantial job center,” Ruthe Batulis, president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said after scanning the numbers.

“As many people commute within the county to jobs as go to Hennepin and Ramsey counties combined.”

In contrast, from Scott, more folks head for Hennepin alone than stay within the county to work.

The reaction to the numbers from Tom Wolf, Scott County’s board chairman: “Looks good for Dakota County; that’s our goal.”

But all that traveling within the county creates its own stresses and strains, Batulis noted.

When “we look at the cross-county commutes, we know that we need additional capacity [especially roads] to manage those trips, now and in the future. Right now there are not good east-west roads within the county” — or at any rate free-flowing roads free of loads of stoplights — “not to mention the chokepoints going from Burnsville and Lakeville across the river.”

Long commutes

One of the weirdest findings is how many super-long-range commutes are being reported to the Census Bureau in its surveys, which in this case cover the years from 2006 to 2010.

At least one person is said to be heading for Dakota County from about 70 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, including such faraway places as Roseau in the north and Watonwan in the south.

Some are so far away as to raise questions whether some workers are reporting the location of a corporate home office in Dakota County, not literally a daily commute destination.

Others may primarily work from home but occasionally make their way to the metro area. Ann Niebuhr, of Wells, Minn., west of Albert Lea, works for a nonprofit in St. Paul but spends most of her days in Wells.

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